Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DIY Italian Bistro Lunch & Cocktails

So to celebrate my Mom's 39th birthday (again) she wanted some Italian themed food.  I like when the whole family comes to our house instead of going out- we can relax, stay as late as you want, drink as much as you want and most importantly watch the Giants game ;)  There are 6 of us usually and they come with the booze and I'll cook up the meal- having a great time + saving money + everyone pitching in = a normal family gathering for us.

My mom is a bruschetta fanatic- it is always a must have.  So to change it up I made homemade focaccia bread instead of just regular Italian bread- which came out perfect and is oh so good.  Here's the menu run down:


Homemade Focaccia with Bruschetta
Romaine and Fennel Salad
Raspberry Bellinis

Main Lunch

Caprese- Homemade pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes on Italian artisan bread
Proscuitto, arugula, and provolone on roasted garlic artisan bread
Genoa Salami, hot capicola, homemade roasted red peppers, provolone and arugula on whole wheat artisan bread

The last panini combo was the favorite!


(Healthy) Lemon Semifreddo with raspberry and almond topping

Wow- this seems like such a lot of work when I actually typed it out! But it really wasn't- just some good planning and prep can make your party easy and enjoyable.

First things first: food shopping the day before.  I basically made the deli counter lady crazy.  I ordered all the meat and cheese pre-sliced so all I needed to do was put on the bread and fry.  I also picked up frozen bags of raspberries because they were on sale and of course all the other fresh ingredients I needed.

When I got home from food shopping I made the pesto, roasted red peppers (you can also just pick up a jar of them no biggie), and the lemon semifreddo.  By the way, semifreddo is like an Italian sherbet.

Fast forward to the day of- I made the focaccia in the morning (which you could have done the night before but I wanted it super fresh and it made the house smell wonderful), pureed the raspberries in the blender, and made the bruschetta (which could also have been made in advance).  When we were all done with the appetizers I just assembled the sandwiches and fried them up. Simple!

So the focaccia recipe is again Anne Burrell's but I this time I used a bit less flour and a bit more yeast.  Can't deny the fact that this is a great simple recipe.

Then you slice the small squares again through the middle and make a small little bruschetta sandwich!

  • 1 big bunch of basil leaves (about 1-2 cups)
  • handful of parsely
  • 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese (Or pecorino)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 of a lemon, juiced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Throw everything into a food processor or blender except the oil.  Get everything chopped then slowly add the oil to make a pesto as thin or thick as you like. Freezes wonderfully- but mine never makes it to the freezer ;)

Bruschetta Recipe

  • 4 large tomatoes, diced (I have also used canned diced tomatoes before- just drain them well)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, grated
  • 1 bunch of basil, torn or chiffonade
  • Extra virgin olive oil- about 1/3 cup
  • salt to taste
Combine everything and let sit to marry the flavors.

Romaine and Fennel Salad
I wanted something light and crunchy to go along with my focaccia and bruschetta
  • 2 heads of romaine, sliced
  • 1/2 bulb of fennel (aka anise), sliced paper thin- save a couple fronds for garnish (the green leafy stuff on the top of the bulb)
  • orange zest (optional)
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper
To make the dressing combine the lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper, then whisk in the oil until it looks like a dressing.  Toss the romaine and fennel together and zest the orange on top for garnish as well as the fennel fronds.  I served the salad undressed, then had everyone pour the dressing on their own salad.  Just don't overdress the salad or it will make the lettuce heavy.  (I also made the salad ahead- if you do this definitely do not add the dressing).  Thinly sliced red onion would be nice in this salad too.

Raspberry Bellinis

So a Bellini is a classic Italian cocktail made with peach and prosecco.  I decided to change it up with raspberries. 

  • 2 bottles of good Prosecco (or any sparkling wine/champagne)
  • 1/2 bag of frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup of triple sec (this is really just to help the raspberries in the blender- you could omit or just use water or another flavored liquor)
Blend the raspberries with the extra liquid of your choice until it is a puree.  You can choose to strain out the seeds and pulp- I was in a rush and forgot but they were still good.  You can either make the drinks individually by adding a bit of puree to the bottom of each glass or (like I did) make a pitcher- one bottle at a time.


Panini is just a hot squished sandwich.  I do not have a panini press- but I do own a cast iron skillet.  If you don't own a heavy pan you can just weigh it down with whatever you have- a large can of beans or tomatoes etc.  One thing about paninis is that it is a good idea to make sure you have a piece of cheese directly on the bread on BOTH sides- so it acts like glue to stick everything together

Caprese: is the classic combo of basil, mozzarella and tomato.  Just slice the bread, slather both sides with pesto, top with cheese and tomato and put in a skillet with a bit of oil and pop the cast iron skillet on top of the sandwich to weigh it down. 

Prosciutto: I used sliced prosciutto, provolone and arugula in this sandwich on a roasted garlic bread. Same technique as before

Salami: This one was the best! And everything you can get right at the deli! Genoa Salami (which is a sweeter salami), Hot capicola is another type of salami-which is from the shoulder or neck- they even have sweet versions, Roasted red peppers , arugula and provolone.  Pile everything up, squish down and fry until the cheese is melty and delicious!

Did this the night before. Oh and check out my new magnetic knife holder I got for Christmas!
 Onto the dessert....

Ok so I basically followed Anne Burrell's Lemon Semifreddo recipe but of course I forgot to buy heavy cream- so I had to improvise (and pray it worked) and then when it did work out I got to call it "healthy" hehe.  This needs to set for AT LEAST 6-8 hours- so I suggest you do this the day before.

  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
  • other half a bag of frozen raspberries left over from the bellinis
  • 8 eggs- yolks and whites separated
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 3 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 2 pinches of salt
Start by prepping the pan- take a loaf pan or even a small casserole dish and line with plastic wrap (for easy removal later!) then in the bottom (which will eventually become our top) coat with crushed raspberries and nuts. 

Separate the egg yolks and whites into two separate bowls- set the whites aside.  Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice and one pinch of salt to the yolks and whisk to combine.  Now we need to set up a double boiler.  In a sauce pot, that will snugly and comfortably fit your bowl with the yolks (obviously the bowl must be glass or metal), fill the pot with just an inch of water and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Put your yolk bowl on top and continuously stir the eggs until the temperature reaches 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.  This takes about 10 minutes.  DO NOT STOP STIRRING or you will end up with scrambled eggs.  When it reaches the correct temperature take off the heat and set aside. 

I didn't use a snug fitting bowl and it took SOOOOOO long- don't let the steam escape!

Back to egg whites: Add the other pinch of salt and beat until tripled in size and have stiff peaks.  You beat the eggs until it becomes like a whipped cream almost.  Stiff peaks refers to the fact when you dip your whisk in the egg whites, pull it out, hold vertical over the bowl for a second, then turn horizontal, and what is on the end of your whisk should look like small little mountain peaks of egg white foam.

Staight Old School- with Grandmas Hand Crank Egg Beater

Combine the egg whites with the egg yolks in three installments.  The first installment try to cut the whites into the yolks with a spatula.  Next two installments gently fold in the whites as to not let all the air out of them.

Fill your loaf pan- I had a bit left over- don’t worry I'll show you a dessert you can make right away with the extra for the cook ;) After you fill your loaf pan wiggle it around so there are no air bubbles and everything will freeze evenly.  Pop in the freezer over night until solid but still soft (like a sherbet!)

To serve- use the plastic wrap to help you pull it out of the pan and then slice and serve! Super delicious, refreshing and pallet cleansing!

Try one or try them all! Buon appetito!

Oh so back to the extra left over from dessert- now this is not brain surgery- but you are going to have to eye ball it- depending on how much egg mixture you have left- sprinkle some flour into the batter- mix as gently and as little as possible to incorporate the flour (sifting would really help here).  Mix until the batter looks like it has a thicker texture.

Now in another loaf pan or I used these cute ramekins- grease the pan, pour mixture in and top with raspberries.

Pop then into a preheated 375 degree F oven until golden on the edges.  Depending on how much flour you put in you might not be able to rely on the "toothpick method" but hey whatever comes out is at least going to taste good for a quick dessert.  It came out almost like a really moist sponge cake.  I think I baked it for about 20-30 minutes.

Before she went in the oven
Obviously we all had a great day!


Caitlin said...

Omg lexi and dutchyyyy <3

This lunch was SUPER DELISH!!!

Rosa said...

So now that I can comment...finally.....I wanted to thank you for my wonderful & delicious Birthday Dinner! I guess you noticed I love Raspberries! Everything was such a nice Surprise, I wasn't expecting all of this! Thanks for being so thoughtful and an incredible cook! I loved it!

Jayme and Mendi said...

Just found your blog and your recipes looks so good! In fact, I'm starving right now!! And your puppies are the cutest!!! My husband and I have a brindle pit and two boxers. A house full let me tell you!
BTW - following you via GFC! Love for you to stop by our blog sometime.

Jayme @ Her Late Night Cravings

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